ACDA 2015 – Salt Lake City


Another great American Choral Directors Association conference has come and gone. Like each one, the week seems to go by very fast and yet offers a large wealth of things to learn from and incorporate into our art form. Sometimes, these conferences can be just the shot in the arm you need to keep fighting the good fight.

It was particularly great that this year’s national conference was in Salt Lake City. What a perfect place for a conference! Two great halls: Abravanel and the Salt Lake Tabernacle, along with the Assembly Hall, the Cathedral of the Madeline, the Conference Center, the Salt Palace and the new City Creek Shopping Center, TRAX, along with all the other amenities downtown SLC has to offer. It was also unseasonably warm for most of the time we were there.

The USC Thornton Chamber Singers had the opportunity to perform where we gave two excellent concerts that were genuinely fun to be a part of. Whenever you perform at the conference it does limit your ability to attend. After Wednesday, however, we pretty much had the rest of the time to ourselves and I made full use of it.

Here are some highlights as well as some thoughts in no particular order:

  • Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 11.42.52 AMRepertoire: I can’t help myself. Out of all of the regular gold/blue track concerts, there were aprox. 224 compositions performed (folk songs with no author credited didn’t get counted). Of those 224 compositions, 16 came from the Renaissance or earlier (7%), 8 from the Baroque (3.5%), 4 from the Classical (2%), 17 from the Romantic (7.5%), 21 from 1900-1950 (9.5%), and 158 from 1950-Today (70.5%)
  • While this has shifted from year to year, in many ways, it does represent pretty accurately what repertoire is being performed by choirs throughout the United States. Classical music was much better represented than in Dallas (which had 0 compositions). Renaissance and Romantic music were better represented thanks to the King’s Singers, National Youth Chorus of Great Britain, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
  • I hear a lot of people complain that all we do is sing old music by dead people. I also often hear choral musicians saying that we need to “start” performing more recent music by living composers. As you can see above, this is already the majority of music we perform. It was very much the same situation two years ago in Dallas.
  • There were a lot more choirs from outside the United States performing than previous years. It some cases, multiple ensembles per concert. This is GREAT because it exposes Americans to more ensembles, repertoire, and choral tones than what they encounter in the US. Choral musicians have a tendency (especially in large metropolitan areas) to be insular and only focus on ensembles in our own vicinity while being vaguely aware of ensembles in other parts of the country and world. We saw choirs from England, Estonia, Cuba, South Korea, and Japan, among other places.
  • The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra performed under the baton of Tõnu Kaljuste. While their singing and playing were top-notch and their program cutting-edge, they messed up in a big way–they gave us NO program. They performed Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament, Brett Dean’s Carlo, and Lepo Sumera’s Concerto per voci e strumenti (along with an encore by Arvo Pärt). It’s a brilliant selection and music that we all need to be exposed to, but how can ANY audience be expected to follow what’s happening with no texts, no translations, no program notes, or any sort of explanation. It was only after the performance that I was told that Carlo was inspired by and quoted Carlo Gesualdo’s music–something that would have helped me enjoy it more if I had known that before the performance. As a result, many people walked out in the middle of an otherwise incredible performance. This is why modern audiences are alienated by classical music (more on this later).
  • mormon-tabernacle-choir-background-blueThe Mormon Tabernacle Choir was in top form with some of the best programming I’ve seen them do. It was Mack Wilberg, being the incredible Choral Lit. teacher he is, showing the rest of American how to program a concert. Brilliant choices. Many of the pieces from the Romantic era were ones that I hadn’t been exposed to yet. The entire 75 minute program was done without any applause in between. The whole program was a tremendous statement! We ALL need to study that program much deeper and learn lessons from it.
  • One of the most inspiring programs and performances was the Sante Fe Desert Chorale at the Cathedral of the Madeline. They sang and read a lot of texts by Rumi and Hafiz, and incorporated other music closely related to it. The tone was rich and the performance engaging. Whenever people got up to give readings, a little bit more of their personality came out. It was definitely a moment when they shined. After this performance, it’s easy to see how the Sante Fe Desert Chorale have become one of the finest small choirs in the United States. Bravo to Joshua Habermann.

Overall the conference offered a lot of great opportunities. I purchased bags full of music and I’m ready to dive in and find lots of new treasures. It also inspired me to keep writing (easier said than done). I only wish the next conference would also be in Salt Lake City, but I’m looking forward to Pasadena for western division in 2016 and Minneapolis for national in 2017.


Stars Over Snow – Barlow Endowment Commission Finished!

I realize that it has been a LOOOOOOOOOONG time since I last posted. I’m trying to make up for that.

Back in August, I was awarded a commission by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. The commission was an a cappella choral piece between 5 and 8 minutes for the Brigham Young University Singers to take on tour to China. I’ve been working on it quite a bit ever since. At first, Dr. Staheli (who was going to premiere the piece) suggested that I write a mood piece with a few words, rather than setting a narrative poem. I worked on that for a few solid months and wasn’t really happy with what was happening.

I don’t like sending sketches or early drafts of my work to anybody. I try and wait until a piece is “finished” or at least thoroughly constructed before delivering it. However, because things weren’t really gelling on this piece, I decided to sent it to Dr. Staheli anyway. After sending it by email I got a call soon afterwards. After some reassuring/loving disclaimers he simply said, “It’s not working.” We talked for a bit and he pretty much vocalized all of my own doubts about the work. I was very grateful to get such honest and open feedback from a person I trust so implicitly.

We talked about possible solutions and we both agreed that the best course of action was to start over. We talked about possible texts, bounced around some possibilities and eventually he recommended a six-line poem by Sara Teasdale. It’s been a personal favorite of mine called “Night.”

Stars over snow,
And in the west a planet
Swinging below a star—
Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far—
It never will be far.

– Sara Teasdale

Eventually, work began on the piece which was going much better than before. I see the poem in two halves of three lines each and structured the piece accordingly. The second half simply expounds on the first half. Seek out that which is beautiful, true, and uplifting and it will be abundant. It reminds me of a quote by Henri Matisse: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” It’s also closely related to these words by Leonardo da Vinci: “There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.” I often find myself in those last two classes.

I’ve finished the piece and BYU Singers is currently rehearsing it. I’ve already had some great conversations about making little changes here and there to polish out all the rough spots. The premiere will be on Friday, March 13th (yes, Friday the 13th) in the de Jong Concert Hall at BYU. I’ll be there in person!

In the meantime, here are the first two pages:





I haven’t update this blog for a LONG while. I want to share some things that have happened this summer. The best part of this summer? Brevitas.

Last year, I got some friends together and created a small choir to perform some of our favorite music. We wanted to also try an experiment: since we didn’t have much time, so we wanted to see if we could put together a concert with only one week of rehearsal. We sent out music early, learned our music, then got together to polish our pieces and perform. While we had some rough moments, overall, it was a success and wanted to do it again.

This year, with lessons learned, we made another attempt to put on a choir in a week. Repertoire choices were better and music went out earlier with weekly reminders. We also had a few extra rehearsals and two concerts.

DSC_0182After a great deal of dialogue and debate we also gave our choir a name: Brevitas. The latin word for “brevity,” the name refers to the “soul of wit” and implies our desire to strip away all the superfluous material and get to what matters most. We felt that this represented us best.

That week was spectacular. The whole week was a joy from beginning to end. Rehearsals were productive and efficient as well as joyful and invigorating. Our two concerts were in Orem Public Library and St. Ambrose Catholic Church. While both concerts were rewarding, St. Ambrose was a special place with an amazing acoustic and stunning stained-glass windows. It was easily one of the most rewarding music experiences of my life.

With two success stories, we’re looking to accelerate our progress. We’re applying for tax exemption and looking for funding to help us put on more performance. Our current plan is to have our next concert in March.


One of the best performances of these concerts was definitely our performance of “Salvation is Created” by Pavel Chesnokov. I think we might have spent 20 minutes total rehearsing this. There was such passion and drive to perfect the piece that it almost rehearsed itself. Here’s a recording of the performance in St. Ambrose. For more recordings visit the Brevitas SoundCloud page:

“Pure Imagination” Now Available for Purchase!

Hey friends, Santa Barbara Music has now released their July 2014 issues which includes my arrangement of “Pure Imagination.” It’s now available for purchase from their website here! You should go buy ALL the copies!

Publishing this pieces has been a LONG and challenging process. Many thanks to all those who helped make this one

Workshop in Oregon

I had a really wonderful experience this last weekend. I was invited by Carol Stenson from South Salem High School to visit and give a clinic to her choir. They were singing “Everyone Sang” getting ready for State and wanted my help in performing it. One of my friends from Portland told me that this high school was well known in the area for its choir. Fly to Oregon and work with a great high school choir on “Everyone Sang?” Yes please!

I love Oregon, but had only been to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival and hadn’t been to Portland or Salem. Driving through the area reminded me a lot of Ireland and took me back there instantly. The green, the weather, the scenery, the hills and the Portland waterfront; It all brought back great memories.

As far as the actual workshop/clinic is concerned, I had a BLAST! To be honest, it was my first clinic so I was nervous and not sure how it would turn out, but Carol Stenson was such a gracious host and very welcoming. The students were well-prepared, flexible, and very willing to work. They were all engaged, bright-eyed, and hard-working. Every time I challenged them, they answered back with lots of energy and excitement. IMG_2928We worked on “Everyone Sang” for almost two hours and didn’t even feel fatigued. Such exciting work!

After lunch we worked on “Os justi” by Anton Bruckner. That was exciting! We got to talk about Bruckner, his life and music, the Cecilian Society, the mode, the golden mean, as well as the meaning behind the text. It was greatly rewarding to work on such incredible music with this choir!

Incredibly grateful for this experience and wish South Salem High the best of luck at State very soon! My only complaint is that it was much too short.

What I’m learning

acdalogoblackI’m now halfway through the coursework for my doctoral program here at USC. It’s been a very interesting experience and I’ve been learning quite a few things about choral music, teaching, and myself. It’s been a dramatically different experience than the one I had at BYU, where I also learned a lot, and it’s been interesting to see the differences.

One of my mentors told me that I should write down the things that I’m learning outside of classes. The instruction in the classroom does teach you a lot, but there are some lessons you only learn outside of the classroom. I wanted to start a new series on my blog about what I’m learning and write it down like my mentor told me told. We had a visit by the Hilliard Ensemble, and I can’t wait to share some of the things I learned from them!

I don’t suppose this will interest many of you, but if it does, please feel free to comment about anything you might have learned in the process. I’m sure there are even more things to learn about choral music that I haven’t encountered here at SC or at BYU. I suppose that’s why we have conferences.

Speaking of conferences, Western division of ACDA will be coming up here in Santa Barbara next week! Looking forward to seeing some old friends again!


Recordings of “Dormi Jesu” & “I Wonder as I Wander”

Here are the recordings of the two pieces premiered this month: “Dormi Jesu” performed by Cantorum, and “I Wonder as I Wander” performed by the Combined Choirs & Philharmonic Orchestra at BYU. I was so happy with how both of these turned out and learned a lot while writing both.

Hope you enjoy them and share them with everyone you know! Happy/Merry Christmas!